Partnership Positions Allow NRCS To Double The Amount of Conservation In The West

Partners in South Dakota work on range management practices that restore and conserve the sagebrush steppe.May 10, 2016

Photo: Partners in South Dakota work on range management practices that restore and conserve the sagebrush steppe.

Field staff help to achieve wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching

The Sage Grouse Initiative, now entering its seventh year, has proven to be a model for cooperative, science-based, landscape-scale habitat conservation. But we wouldn’t be this model without our partners. Led by the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Program, SGI works hand-in-hand with local community groups, federal and state fish and wildlife agencies, nonprofits, and thousands of agricultural landowners to ensure Farm Bill conservation programs reach their full potential for habitat conservation.

SGI’s partnership positions are funded by a host of participating nonprofit organizations, state fish and wildlife agencies, or federal partners. We now have over two dozen field staff located in 11 states who comprise our Strategic Watershed Action Team (SWAT). These dedicated and enthusiastic range conservationists, wildlife biologists, and natural resource specialists continued to deliver on-the-ground conservation results during the first quarter of 2016. The field capacity provided by SGI SWAT partnership positions has enabled NRCS to double the amount of conservation projects across the West.

The Intermountain West Joint Venture takes the lead in coordinating SGI’s Strategic Watershed Action Team. IWJV also produces quarterly reports to track success on the range, like this new report. Since 2010, our SWAT team has helped plan or implement the following gains for sage grouse, wildlife, and working rangelands:

  • 2,293,260 acres of rangeland improved to increase sage grouse hiding cover during nesting season. Additional grass cover is expected to increase sage grouse populations by eight to ten percent.
  • 291,613 acres of conifer removed in key nesting, brood-rearing, and wintering habitats. Removing encroaching conifers from sagebrush rangelands eliminates tall structures in otherwise suitable habitat. As birds re-colonize former habitats, increased bird abundance is anticipated.
  • 193 miles of “high-risk” fence marked or removed near sage grouse mating leks. Marking fences is expected to reduce sage grouse fence collisions by 83%.

In addition, SGI ramped up our science and outreach efforts in 2016, with several new reports, stories, and web tools designed to enhance conservation efforts on the ground. Highlights from last quarter include:

  • NEW Interactive Web App mapping tool helps catalyze and improve habitat conservation efforts across the western United States. The SGI Interactive Map is free and available to the public, presenting cutting-edge geospatial data covering 100 million acres.
  • NEW Events & Webinars webpage provides a list of learning opportunities centered around conservation and wildlife on the sagebrush sea. Its easy-to-use interface, full of upcoming webinars, conferences, workshops, was a big hit on SGI’s website last quarter.
  • 25+ news posts, videos and stories feature sagebrush experts, ranchers, partners, and projects delivering big gains for wildlife and working rangelands across the West.

Read the latest SGI-SWAT Quarterly Report – January-March 2016

Read past SGI-SWAT Quarterly Reports

The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.